In which this is the last story...until there is another story...

It's been more than a week of storytelling here at the Haiku Farm Blog.

We'll return to regular posts about horses and farm life soon...but first, here's just one more story.  I learned this from storyteller Aaron Shepard, and my version isn't very different from his, even after years of telling it.  

I think a story about generosity is a good one to start out the New Year.  Let's make it a good 'un.






The Baker’s Dozen (Colonial America)
In the colonial town now known as Albany, New York, there lived a baker who was as honest as he could be. Each morning, he checked and balanced his scales, and he took great care to give his customers exactly what they paid for—not more and not less.

The baker’s shop was always busy, because people trusted him, and because he was a good baker as well. And never was the shop busier than in the days before December 6, when the Dutch celebrate Saint Nicholas Day.

At that time of year, people flocked to the baker’s shop to buy his fine Saint Nicholas cookies. Made of gingerbread, iced in red and white, they looked just like Saint Nicholas as the Dutch know him: tall and thin, with a high, red bishop’s cap, and a long, red bishop’s cloak.

One Saint Nicholas Day morning, the baker was just ready for business, when the door of his shop opened. In walked an old woman, wrapped in a long black shawl.

“I have come for a dozen of your Saint Nicholas cookies.”

Taking a tray, the baker counted out twelve cookies. He started to wrap them, but the woman reached out and stopped him.
“I asked for a dozen. You have given me only twelve.”

“Madam,” said the baker, “everyone knows that a dozen is twelve.”

“But I say a dozen is thirteen,” said the woman. “Give me one more.”

Now, this baker was not a man to bear foolishness. “Madam, my customers get exactly what they pay for—not more and not less.”
“Then you may keep the cookies.”
The woman turned to go, but stopped at the door.
“Baker, however honest you may be, your heart is small and your fist is tight. Fall again, mount again, learn how to count again!”

Then she was gone.


From that day, everything went wrong in the bakery. His bread rose too high or not at all. His pies were sour or too sweet. His cakes crumbled or were chewy. His cookies were burnt or bitter.

His customers soon noticed the difference. Before long, most of them were going to other bakers.

“That old woman has bewitched me,” said the baker to himself. “Is this how my honesty is rewarded?”

A year passed. The baker grew poorer and poorer. Since he sold little, he baked little, and his shelves were nearly bare. His last few customers slipped away.

Finally, on the day before Saint Nicholas Day, not one customer came to the baker’s shop. At day’s end, he sat alone, staring at his unsold Saint Nicholas cookies.

“I wish Saint Nicholas could help me now,” he said. Then he closed his shop and went sadly to bed.

That night, the baker had a dream. He was a boy again, one in a crowd of happy children. And there in the midst of them was Saint Nicholas himself.

The bishop’s white horse stood beside him, its baskets filled with cookies. Nicholas pulled out one after another, and handed them to the children. But the baker noticed something strange: no matter how many cookies Nicholas passed out, there were always more to give. In fact, the more he took from the baskets, the more they seemed to hold.

In his dream, the baker tried to thank Saint Nicholas, but when he looked up, he saw that it wasn’t the saint at all. Smiling down at him was the old woman with the long black shawl.

He awoke with a start. Moonlight shone through the half-closed shutters as he lay there, thinking.

“I always give my customers exactly what they pay for,” he said, “not more and not less. But why not give more?”

The next morning, Saint Nicholas Day, the baker rose early. He mixed his gingerbread dough and rolled it out. He molded the shapes and baked them. And the cookies were as fine as any he had made.
He had just finished icing the cookies in red and white to look just like Saint Nicholas, when the door opened. In walked the old woman with the long black shawl.
“I have come for a dozen of your Saint Nicholas cookies.”

In great excitement, the baker counted out twelve cookies—and one more.

“In this shop,” he said, “from now on, a dozen is thirteen.”

“You have learned to count well,” said the woman. “You will surely be rewarded.”

She paid for the cookies and started out. But as the door swung shut, the baker’s eyes seemed to play a trick on him. He thought he glimpsed the tail end of a long red cloak.

As the old woman foretold, the baker was rewarded. When people heard he counted thirteen as a dozen, he had more customers than ever.

In fact, he grew so wealthy that the other bakers in town began doing the same. From there, the practice spread to other towns, and through all the American colonies.

And this, they say, is how thirteen became the “baker’s dozen”—a custom common for over a century, and alive in some places to this very day.


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